Turkey and Egypt Buying Trip 2010

Posted by Lisa Wilkinson on

 

August 3, 2010

Today I flew from Zurichto Istanbul on Turkish Air. An uneventful flight except for the gentleman smoking cigarettes on my flight. Pretty sure that was not okay. But the flight attendants didn’t say anything.

Erin and I were picked up by our driver and driven to our hotel. Cute little boutique hotel about 400 meters from the Grand Bazaar. Great location.

We did a quick looking session at the Bazaar. Lots of jewels and carpets! We did encounter a store owner who tried to violate both Erin and I. He made the ‘ scuzi’ guy from Eurotrip seem innocent. A lot of hand stroking and creepy touching. Needless to say I ran as fast as I could and left Erin to fend for herself. But he was a true gentleman and would say sorry when you would tighten up and freeze. But it didn’t stop him. Pretty sure we were getting sold into the Turkish sex trade. I know I have said I wanted to live in Turkey but not sure that was the way I waned it to happen. Like any good friend I let her fend for herself and bolted upstairs from his clutches. He continued to rub Erins thumb and hands and stroke her lower back. I think she might have liked it. She finally emerged from his sweaty cave and we went on our way.

We had dinner in a cute little area. But total tourist trap. We spent 10 times as much as we should have on dinner! Best damn kabobs I have ever had.

August 4

Shopping! Shopping! Shopping! All day. Woke up at 9 am quick shower and breakfast and off to the market. The market was quiet when we fist started. The first sale of the day is always the one that counts for the vendor. It is thought to set the tone for the day. SO the first sale is an important one.

Istanbulis known for jewelry. It does not disappoint. Necklaces, earrings, rings……….anything your heart desires. Out first stop was out good friend Aligulec. We have dealt with him before. He has the most amazing jewlery. We get our high end cuffs form him. Although not cheap he has the most amazing quality. We found new designs with his earrings we had not seen anywhere in Istanbul. Ali G always takes such good care of us he sent our goodies home for us.

A day of shopping is never complete without refueling. Several diet cokes later and some kebobs makes us ready for an afternoon of shopping. The afternoon brings us down an ally away from the Grand Bazaar. We made our way to a small side street to visit our friends at D . One of our first trips we went here. They are great to work with but the English translation in email gets lost. Our last email from them started with- We do not show you all of our wealth on the website. We made up for lost time and have more rings than we know what to do with.

The best part about being in Turkey is the Turkish Bath. Nothing better than being scrubbed down by an angry, hairy Persian woman. She washes you, scrubs you to an inch of your life, suds you up and washes your hair. All while not talking to you and tapping your leg to indicate you need to change positions. Not awkward at all when being bathed next to one of your best friends.

August 5

We were on a mission to find some more necklaces. Necklaces are hard in Turkeyas they are too much everything- too many beads, too much ribbon, too gaudy…We met with a family friend who has a rug shop in Istanbul. He took us to a local place to have some coffee and desert. After a good rest we were able to finish our mission!

August 6

Midnight flight to Cairo, Egypt......Since we arrived at the hotel at 4 am the 8 am wake up call was a little rough.

Kahn de Kaihili………..not what I expected. We had heard so much about it and I think we were thinking it would be a cross between the JJ market in Thailand and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Not so much. Dont get me wrong, it was a cool place but not what we expected. We did not pick up a lot on our first day, jewely and some small bags. We needed time to digest what we saw and figure out pricing. So we called it a day and went back to our amazing hotel and stuffed our faces with food.

August 7, 2010

Played tourist today. I viewed the Kempinski hotel (where I am staying). The hotel is in the soft opening stage. It has been open for 1 month. It will officially open in 1 month. There were a handful of guests at the hotel. The hotel itself is beautiful. It is a small, boutique hotel. It has approx. 191 rooms. The service is unreal. They pride themselves on the service and it delivers. Almost borderline too much. There is always someone there to help you.

The breakfast is amazing. There are yogurts of every kind with fruit and spreads I have never heard of before. There is fish and hummus and food of the local area. There is fruit smoothies of every kind. I got eggs every morning, sometimes scrambled and sometimes omelet style. Never a disappointment. But meat bacon is not what you think it is………

The site visit was directed by the Director of Sales. He showed me and Tamer (my guide from A&K who arranged my visit) around. We started at the rooftop pool. The pool has an amazing view of the Nile (which is across the street). The gym and spa are having the finishing touches put on them. The lounge in the spa has breathtaking views of the Nile.

The business center is well equipped. I actually dropped off some faxes to be sent during my site visit. There is no ballroom but well appointed meeting rooms. What it lacks for in size it more than makes up for in views and decoration. Again the theme is boutique and personalized service.

We moved onto the guest rooms. My personal room is wonderful. I have a balcony with a Nile view. I love to sit on the balcony and watch the feluccas go by and listen to the hum of the ever present traffic. My room has a fridge that they stock with free soda and water. Its like they knew me and were prepared. I have butler service and can call my butler 24 hours a day to bring me a smoothie or more diet coke. The poor fellow was kept quite busy.

We finished with the restaurants. There is one on the 10thfloor as well as a jazz bar. The jazz bar has live music and cigars. The ambiance is metropolitan. The 2nd level hosts the breakfast restaurant (also know as Out of the Blue) and is home to the No Menu restaurant. You can create any dish you want. You could ask for alligator. They do not have alligator (as you cannot buy it in Cairo) but they will find it for you and let you know when it would be ready. I was brave and ordered chicken, rice and steamed veggies. It was amazing!!! Since there is no menu there are no prices to be seen……….lesson learned after a $120 dinner. But worth it.

After the site visit I had a private guide. To be a guide you must go to school and get a certificate to be an Eyptologist. This is not something to be taken lightly. They are schooled in the history of the rich nation. Our guide was above and beyond that. He is a published author, and is invited to lecture around the world. He started speaking English at age 3 and has almost no accent. He studied for 1 year in UCLA when he was 19. He also has a degree in comparative religion.

Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum. Over 120,000 artifacts is a bit overwhelming. But he knew my attention span was limited and without air conditioning (gotta love ancient Cairo buildings) I could not last for longer than 2 hours. We set about the most important parts of the museum (a relative term, I know).

Everything I had read about Egypt made me aware that I would need to keep covered. I brought loose pants and long sleeve shirts to be respectful. The museum blew me away! There were girls wearing tube tops and daisy dukes. Even I was uncomfortable. I was so happy to discover that they were Russian and not Americans. Turns out that Russians are notorious for that dress and ignorance of the culture. Americans tend to be the most respectful and well covered up.

No visit to the museum is complete without the King Tut portion. I had recently seen the traveling exhibit in Denver. It was disappointing, But luckily that changed at the museum. We saw so many artifacts from his tomb. It wasn’t just the items (his fan of ostrich feathers was in pretty good shape all things considering) it was the way he was buried, how the coffins matched up, how each box fit perfectly. It was the ornate and detailed drawings and jewels. It was pretty heady stuff.

We continued through the animal portion and got a better understanding of animals and what role and attributes were important to the Egyptians. I think Annabus looks like Oscar.

When the heat finally did me in we moved onto the pyramids. My whole like I have wanted to ride a camel in the desert next to the pyramids. So cheesy, but so fun!!! When you drive up and see them they almost don’t look real. After we bought out tickets we started the walk towards the 3 great pyramids.

The immense stones are unreal. It was amazing to see how big they actually are and the stones. Its still hard to understand how they were able to build this monster. We drove up and around so we could get a picture of all three pyramids together. It was here that I got to ride Ben (my camel) towards the pyramids. I want to take Ben home. I hope Tank is ready for some competition for my affection as I am in love. These poor animals are gentle giants. The ride is surprisingly smooth. The cutest little 10 year old guides me and Ben on our journey. Time went by too quickly and Ben and I were parting ways, long before I was ready.

Our next stop was the Spynix. It looks different than I had anticipated. I imagined it larger. It was still grand and amazing how it was constructed. The best/worst part was when we were going back to the car. Less than 400 meters from the Spynix is a KFC/Pizza Hut! How awful.

I stopped by the Mena House to look at the hotel and the restraint for a potential lunch for my group. It had a wow factor that I cannot describe. Take away the pyramid views and the hotel itself is still rich and stately. It is everything you would think of- dark wood, amazing ancient art and lanterns. The lunch room has an unobstructed view of the pyramids. It is breathtaking. The only complaint is that the pyramids are far, fare from the city in Giza. Traffic is so bad in the city that it makes staying at the Mena House challenging for longer than 1-2 nights. But what a hotel!!!

August 8

I am viewing the Fairmount Nile, Four Seasons and Four Seasons First Residence today. Erin will be visiting the pool. I am sitting in the chocolate lounge at the Kempinski waiting for Tamar (my guide coordinator) to come and meet me. I am surprised to find Ahmed with Tamer (my very handsome, very modern A&K supervisor- I may be in love).

The tour was a long one. 3 hotels and 5 hours later I have made it back. The first hotel was the Fairmount. I didn’t know what to expect but I love the chain so I was hopeful. It was a beautiful hotel. It is new (opened in Jan) and very modern. The lobby has 3 amazing statues at check in. We met the sales manager and started with a drink (Egyptians take pride in their hospitality and they do not disappoint).

The hotel tour started on top of the hotel with the rooftop pool. The pool was pretty amazing and the Nileviews were stunning. They are currently building a bar that will feature live music at night.

The rooms are very modern, very clean lines. The difference in categories is the size and the view. The city view is impressive and on a clear day you can see the Citadel. I almost prefer the city view. The architecture is amazing. You have slums mixed with beauty and the contrast and blend is a wonder.

We continued on to the Nile First Plaza. During this time Ahmed is filling me in on the politics and trials of Egyptian life. He has studied in America and traveled all over the world. He is quite cultured and very entertaining and smart and handsome (did I mention this is a full blown crush at this point). He also took the time to answer my questions about Islam and religion vs traditions (two very different things that are not always hand in hand).

Female circumcision is more tradition, not religion. Technically it is supposed to be illegal. But over 90% of women have this done. What is interesting is that over 70% of women who have had it done support it. That fact confuses me. Both Ahmeds mother and sister were circumcised. But he would fight to make sure his daughter would not have that same fate.

The NilePlaza is very grand. The flower arrangements are better than any high end wedding. The colors change weekly but the flowers are large and not native to the area. They are flown in weekly. It is the first thing you notice when you walk in the lobby. We start off with mango juice, something Egyptians are very proud of. I am not a huge mango juice fan but this was scrumptious.

The Four Seasons is always consistent. You know you will have understated elegance and top notch service. This Four Seasons does not break rank. The art is amazing in the hotel. A lot of it is from local artists. It wasn’t just the art, it was the framing and matting. It is one of my favorite hotels for art so far in all of my travels.

The restaurants were amazing. Leave it to the Four Seasons to top everything. They have an authentic Chinese restaurant called Spice. They have brought a chef from Chinaand staff to make sure that it stays authentic in both taste and service. The décor is authentic and I want to decorate my house in the same manor. It is the attention to detail and the understated elegance that makes it so memorable.

The Four Seasons First Residence is about 10 minutes by car from the Four Seasons NilePlaza. While the Four Seasons Plaza Nile is very modern and elegant and attention catching the Four Seasons First Residence is it’s quiet, classier older sister. The hotel was open in 2000. It has about 300 rooms and is considered a boutique hotel. Sunday is a great day to visit as chocolate is the theme on Sunday. We were greeted by a chocolate fountain where we had to dip marshmallows and pineapple. I have never been a fan of chocolate dipped fruit but was in love. It almost surpassed my crush for Ahmed.

The lobby and the tea lounge are more traditional and classic. First impression I did not like it as much at the other Four Seasons. But as we toured the rooms (starting with the suites) its personality came through. It is more of a classic hotel. It is quiet and more mature. By the time we got to the restaurants I had started to warm up to it. The Library Bar is a great room. You can see the pyramids off in to the right as well as the Giza zoo. There is live jazz music and a cigar bar. It looks like a place out of London or a movie.

The traffic is horrible. Part of that is normal Cairo traffic. You hear horror stories of a 2 hour commute. It is brutal.

The next part of my adventure will continue in Luxor. It is a 45 minute flight (or 11 hour train ride). My guide Monhem picks me up. His baby face does not give away that he is my age and has a baby girl (which he proudly shows me pics on his phone – and she is adorable!). He is from Luxor and shares many tidbits about the people and the land. He is 1 of 6 kids (large families are normal in the rural areas). His skin is darker (common for Upper Egyptians) and he prefers the smaller city to Cairo (Luxor is under 400,000 vs Cairos 18-20 million people).

Tonight I am overnighting on the Abercrombie and Kent Sunboat 3. I am not sure I ever want to come home. My crush on Ahmed is forgotten and transferred to the boat. My room is the size of my loft in Denver. Not sure if it is the dark wood, the white linen furniture or the art that has me suckered but I am a fan for life. I got here so late that they delivered dinner to my room. The sandwich I dissected but the fruit was amazing. I love banana and apples but these are better than anything I have had in the US. Either that or I am starving. Either way I am a happy camper.

August 9, 2010

I woke up and rolled over and pressed my automatic window coverings. As they hummed as they were rolling up I caught a glance of a hot air balloon coming over the mtn range on the Nile in Luxor. Pretty good way to wake up. I rolled out of wed and headed to breakfast. It was the typical fare I had been having while in Egypt-eggs, fruits yogurts, and breads.

I attempted to run on the treadmill on the top deck near the pool. Looking at it it seems like an awesome ideas as they out it under a tent. I was all excited thinking shade. But forgetting how much extra heat it added….brutal 3 miles……..and I came back sweating like a pig.

I am waiting for my guide Mohsen Sharif. We are going to go look at 2 hotels and explore the sites of Luxor. Mohsen means one who gives a lot and takes only a little. Mohsen, a baby faced boy man of 30, informed me he is no such man., But the way he talks of his baby daughter (with pictures to boot) paints a contrasting picture. He has been great in explaining local life and politics and daily living in the Luxor Valley.


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